Profile - Asian & Pacific Americans in the Second World War
Close to 50,000 Asian-Americans – essentially meaning people of East Asian heritage – served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.
Official estimates of the number of Chinese-Americans in the service range from 20,000 to 25,000. Historically, the U.S. Army had accepted Chinese-American recruits since the Civil War; indeed, the first Chinese-American to give his life for the U.S. was Pvt. John Tommy, of the 70th New York Volunteers, who was mortally wounded at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, and died 109 days later, on October 19th. It’s not clear how many Chinese-American served in the Spanish-American War, but some thousands served in the army during First World War. However, the Navy and Marines barred Chinese-Americans, and continued to reject them even after Pearl Harbor, until specifically told to do so by political leaders.
Although there were a handful of units composed primarliyl of Chinese-Americans, unlike African- or Japanese-Americans most Chinese-Americans were fully integrated in unitscomposed largely of white Americans. Chinese-Americans served in all theaters, and in every role, from infantrymen to bomber pilots to seamen. There were, for example, several Chinese-Americans who dropped into Normandy with the 82nd and 101st Airborned Divisions on June 6, 1944. A number of Chinese-Americans became prisoners of the Japanese, including one or two captured with 131st Field Artillery on Java in early 1942. The handful of units composed heavily of Chinese-American were certain engineer and aviation maintenance units that served in the CBI, as well as a school to train Chinese-Americans as translators. In addition, a number of Chinese-American pilots were deliberately assigned to the Fourteenth Air Force in China. Although Chinese-Americans served honorably in every theater, none earned the Medal of Honor.
As many as 25,000 Japanese-Americans also served in the war. Unlike Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans were largely segregated. The largest group of Japanese-Americans to serve did so in what became the 442nd Infantry. In addition, some Japanese-Americans served as intelligence officers, translators, and specialists in all services, primarily in the Pacific. Over 800 Japanese-Americans were killed-in-action, mostly in the 442nd. Two Japanese-Americans soldiers became prisoners of the Japanese, one with the 131st Artillery in Java in early 1942, and the other in the Philippines.
During the war one Japanese-American who had served with the 442nd in Europe was awarded a Medal of Honor. In 2000 an additional 21 Japanese-Americans who had been awarded lesser decorations during the war had their awards upgraded to the Medal of Honor, in an action prompted largely by political considerations; it hardly seems reasonable to assume that nearly one in every thousand Japanese-Americans who served did so “above and beyond the call of duty,” when the overall rate of award for the entire war was approximately one in 35,000 of those who served.
About 1,500 persons of Hawaiian extraction also served in the Armed Forces, mostly in the Army, largely integrated in white units, as did about a thousand persons of Samoan descent.
Aside from perhaps 80,000 Filipinos serving in the Philippine Army and 12,000 or so more in the Philippine Scouts, perhaps 12,000 Filipinos served in the Armed Forces during the war, many of them as messmen in the Navy, but some in the army’s two Filipino regiments, which technically formed part of the Philippine Army. Three Philippine Scouts earned the Medal of Honor.
A small number of Korean-Americans also served in the war, some of whom as translators and intelligence officers in the Pacific.